Victoria’s coronavirus average goes up AGAIN as the state records 12 new cases
Victoria has recorded 12 new coronavirus cases and one death from COVID-19.
Melbourne’s 14-day rolling average has risen to 10 cases from 9.9 on Monday – the fourth day in a row that figure has increased.
Premier Daniel Andrews said on Monday some social distancing restrictions will be relaxed on Sunday even though Melbourne has been recording about 10 to 15 cases per day.
Mr Andrews has previously said the city needs to record five cases or fewer on a three-day average before lockdown can be lifted safely.
But he admitted Victoria would struggle to meet that threshold and could open up with a higher number of cases if that was ‘as good as it will get’.
A couple wearing masks are pictured in St Kilda in Melbourne’s inner-city. Victoria has recorded 12 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday
Walkers are pictured at Melbourne’s Albert Park Lake on Monday. The city’s 14-day rolling average has risen to 10 cases on Tuesday from 9.9 from the day before
Premier Daniel Andrews has indicated he may have to ease social distancing restrictions in Melbourne even if the number of COVID-19 cases is higher than his threshold of five a day
The premier’s right-hand man Chris Eccles on Monday resigned from his post as Victoria’s top public servant after phone records showed he spoke to police boss Graham Ashton on the day the state’s bungled quarantine program was set up.
Mr Eccles had previously told an inquiry into the program he could not remember speaking to Mr Ashton.
The inquiry has been struggling to find out who decided to use private security guards instead of police or the ADF to man quarantine hotels.
Mr Eccles denied making the decision to use private security.
Mr Andrews was grilled by Sky News host Peta Credlin, who was praised for taking the premier to task at the conference last week, about Mr Eccles’ role.
At about midday on 27 March, the premier left a national cabinet meeting where the decision to quarantine Aussies arriving from overseas was made.
Credlin, who was chief of staff to former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott, asked Mr Andrews if he then spoke to Mr Eccles about using private security guards and the premier said he did not.
‘Did you have a conversation with Mr Eccles at any point after which you left the room at 12 noon in relation to security regarding hotels,’ she said.
‘No,’ the premier replied.
Credlin pressed again saying: ‘No conversation at all? and the premier said: ‘No. No.’
Mr Andrews was also grilled about mask compliance. One journalist estimated that only 10 per cent of Victorians were wearing masks even though they are mandatory.
Mr Andrews said: ‘There’s pretty significant enforcement but [the police] are not everywhere for every single offence.’
He added: ‘I’m not for a moment denying that people are getting increasingly tired of these rules.’
Daniel Andrews’ right-hand man Chris Eccles (pictured at the hotel inquiry) has resigned from his position
Mr Eccles’ phone records show he spoke to Mr Ashton for two minutes in response to a text at 1.16pm on 27 March.
Text messages submitted to the inquiry show that someone told Mr Ashton between 1.16pm and 1.22pm on March 27 that private security would be used.
Mr Eccles and Mr Ashton’s two-minute phone call occurred in this critical six-minute window.
Mr Ashton texted the Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw at 1.12pm on March 27.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews is pictured at a press conference on Saturday
‘Mate. Question. Why wouldn’t AFP Guard people At The hotel??’ he wrote.
At 1.16pm, Mr Ashton also messaged Mr Eccles: ‘Chris I am getting word from Canberra for a plan whereby arrivals from overseas are to be subjected to enforced isolation from tomorrow. The suggestion is Victorian arrivals are conveyed to a hotel Somewhere where they are guarded by police for 14 days. Are you aware of anything in this regard?? Graham’.
The critical six-minute window on 27 March
1.12pm: Victoria Police boss Graham Ashton texted Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw to say: ‘Mate. Question. Why wouldn’t AFP Guard people At The hotel??’
1.16pm: Mr Ashton also messaged Mr Eccles: ‘Chris I am getting word from Canberra for a plan whereby arrivals from overseas are to be subjected to enforced isolation from tomorrow. The suggestion is Victorian arrivals are conveyed to a hotel Somewhere where they are guarded by police for 14 days. Are you aware of anything in this regard?? Graham’.
1.17pm: Mr Eccles called Mr Ashton for two minutes
1.22pm: Mr Ashton sent another message to Mr Kershaw: ‘Mate. My advice is the ADF do passenger transfer and private security will be used.’
The phone records reveal Mr Eccles called Mr Ashton a minute after receiving this message.
Six minutes later, at 1.22pm, Mr Ashton sent another message to Mr Kershaw: ‘Mate. My advice is the ADF do passenger transfer and private security will be used.’
‘Ok that’s new,’ Mr Kershaw replied.
‘I think that’s the deal set up by our DPC. I understand NSW will be a different arrangement,’ Mr Ashton said.
Mr Andrews said Mr Eccles’ resignation was ‘appropriate’ and thanked him for his service.
In his resignation statement, Mr Eccles insisted he did not make the decision to use private security.
But he said remaining in his role would be a ‘significant distraction’ to the government.
‘Following a request by the board of inquiry on Saturday 10 October 2020, I requested detailed telephone records from my telecommunications carrier,’ his statement read.
‘These records show I called Mr Ashton at 1:17pm and that I spoke with him for just over two minutes. At no time prior to 10 October 2020 had the Board requested access to these telephone records, and they had not previously been in my possession.
‘The telephone records do not in any way demonstrate that I, or indeed anyone else in DPC made a decision that private security be used in the hotel quarantine program.’
Almost all of Victoria’s second-wave cases and deaths have been linked to outbreaks at two hotels in May and June.
A total of 810 Victorians have lost their lives due to coronavirus and Melbourne is on track to suffer a 15-week lockdown.
Former Health Minister Jenny Mikakos has already resigned after Mr Andrews said he held her ‘accountable’ for the hotel quarantine program.
More to come